Born January 11, 1921 in New York City, Monroe Sirken grew up in a suburb of Pasadena, California. He earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in sociology at UCLA in 1946 and 1947, and a Ph.D. in 1950 in sociology with a minor in mathematics at the University of Washington in 1950 where Professor Z. W. Birnbaum was his mentor and thesis advisor. As a Post-Doctoral Fellow of the Social Science Research Council, Monroe spent 1950–1951 at the Statistics Laboratory, University of California at Berkeley and the Office of the Assistant Director for Research, U.S. Bureau of the Census in Suitland, Maryland.
Monroe visited the Census Bureau at a time of great change in the use of sampling and survey methods, and decided to remain. He began his government career there in 1951 as a mathematical statistician, and moved to the National Office of Vital Statistics (NOVS) in 1953 where he was an actuarial mathematician and a mathematical statistician. He has held a variety of research and administrative positions at the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and he was the Associate Director, Research and Methodology and the Director, Office of Research and Methodology until 1996 when he became a senior research scientist, the title he currently holds.
Aside from administrative responsibilities, Monroe’s major professional interests have been conducting and fostering survey and statistical research responsive to the needs of federal statistics. His interest in the design of rare and sensitive population surveys led to the development of network sampling which improves precision by linking multiple selection units to the same observation units. His interest in fostering research on the cognitive aspects of survey methods led to the establishment of permanent questionnaire design research laboratories, first at NCHS and later at other federal statistical agencies here and abroad.
Monroe has been active in serving the statistical community. He has served on many committees of the American Statistical Association (ASA) and the Washington Statistical Society (WSS). He is a charter member of the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology (FCSM) and chairs its research subcommittee that oversees a grants program in statistical and survey research that is funded by a consortium of federal statistical agencies, and administered by the National Science Foundation. He is a Fellow of the American Statistical Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and is an elected member of the International Statistical Institute. He is the recipient of the Public Health Service Superior Service Award, and the ASA WSS Roger Herriot Award for Innovation in Government Statistics.
"A Conversation with Monroe Sirken." Statist. Sci. 22 (4) 637 - 650, November 2007. https://doi.org/10.1214/07-STS245